Cat predation on birds and small mammals is probably worse than you thought.
Last month, The Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy suggested that nearly a third of all free-roaming house cats are capturing and killing wildlife, resulting in an estimated loss of 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. This number far exceeds previous estimates.
This information was derived from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia in partnership with the National Geographic Society’s Crittercam program. Local cat owners near Athens, Georgia, volunteered 60 of their outdoor house cats for the experiment in exchange for free health screenings for their pets. The cameras recorded the cats’ outdoor activities during all four seasons of the year, averaging five to six hours of outside time every day.
“The results were certainly surprising, if not startling,” said Kerrie Anne Loyd of the University of Georgia, who was the lead author of the study. The researchers found that about 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey. Those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours spent outdoors, or 2.1 kills per week. What was also surprising was that less than a quarter of the cats brought their kills back home. The range of prey species was broad, too, including birds, lizards, voles, chipmunks, frogs, and small snakes.
The finding that cats would bring back under a quarter of their kills to the residence of their owners actually counters previous studies that have attempted to measure the impacts of domestic cats on wildlife. Earlier estimates of a billion birds and animals per year were based on dead animals that the cats would bring home. The KittyCams showed that almost half of the time cats would leave the prey at the capture site and slightly over a quarter were eaten and never brought home.
This University of Georgia study does not take into consideration the impacts of the estimated 60 million feral cats that roam the United States. This fact alone, suggests that the killing fields out there are huge!
Finally, the University of Georgia researchers also found that the house cats were engaging in risky activity outdoors such as crossing busy roads, entering tiny crawlspaces, and interacting with potentially diseased stranger cats.
A brochure for cat owners, designed to address both risky feline behavior and the high rate of wildlife predation, was developed by researchers and can be viewed here:
For more details from the American Bird Conservancy and The Wildlife Society, see here: